The Kitchen Sink

For the love of food, life and everything in between.

Month: October, 2012

Pumpkin Pizza

I have been baking a lot with pumpkin lately, and with good reason! Halloween is just around the corner.

I haven’t yet roasted up a sugar pie pumpkin but the canned version is proving to be quite versatile; from pumpkin stuffed shells to pumpkin bread and pumpkin muffins.

The idea to add pumpkin to a pizza was not my idea, in fact, it was a lunchtime conversation turned inspiration. I couldn’t see myself visiting the Providence restaurant that served this dish in the near future so I thought I would make my own!

 

Although I had never made pizza at home before I knew that our local grocery store sold freshly made dough. All I would need were my toppings.

I had stocked up on canned pumpkin back in late August so that was taken care of. I thought about looking to the internet for additional topping ideas but I decided to choose a few of my favorite ingredients, with pizza in mind of course. I chose some fresh basil that was growing atop our kitchen counter, mozzarella  and goat cheese and marinara sauce of course. I was feeling a “red” pizza rather than a “white” one.

I followed the directions on the dough for flouring and shaping, then it was up to me. I added just a little bit of olive oil to ensure crispy crust and then added my tomato sauce. Next, I grated some mozzarella cheese and sprinkled that on. I generously spooned some goat cheese (my favorite) among the mozzarella and then came the star ingredient. A few dollops of pumpkin later and this was shaping up to be quite the festive pizza! I added some basil for flavor and a splash of greenery and then seasoned with just a little pepper. Into the oven for a quick twenty minutes and before I knew it, our pizza was looking more like a small hover craft! That being said – it was delicious.

The pumpkin added a sweet yet savory flavor while the other toppings were reminiscent of your typical pizza pie. 

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Not-So-Deluxe Coconut Chocolate Chip Coffeecake

Coconut? Chocolate chips? Coffeecake? This was sure to bring delight to my taste buds. I have to admit this recipe was a challenge. I think it is important to share my successful cooking adventures as well as some of my not-so-good kitchen creations. I had serious doubts about this cake, I really did. For starters, it is never good when the cake is already baking away in the oven that you realize you forgot to add the brown sugar, in fact, you’re not even really sure if the recipe called for brown sugar but there had to be a reason you pulled it out of the cabinet right?

 Then there’s the fact that the whole kitchen fills with this aroma of buttered toast. No coconut, no rich chocolate scents, no ingredient in the cake seems to tempt me. Just buttered toast. Even worse, I didn’t have toast for breakfast. I was so doubtful about this baking experience I failed to photograph any of the preparation process.

The sixty minutes of cooking should have crept by with anticipation, but I was almost dreading the final product. The batter had seemed thick and quite possibly over-stirred. I am a big repeat offender of the over stirring, I’m working on it though. The topping was missing its brown sugar – tossed in mid baking – and it seemed to resist melding with the tough batter below.

There was minimal liquid ingredients to this cake, an egg and some non-fat greek yogurt. Could I have possibly forgotten another ingredient?

Once out of the oven the cake cooled for about ten minutes in the pan and then it was safely transferred to sit atop a cooking rack, for another hour and a half. I left the house, the buttered toast aroma was concerning (however not as awful as the rendering beef suet from my previous project). I figured the whole cake would be a dud. I do my best to remain a positive person but I was really, really having my doubts about this one.

When I returned home I had nearly forgotten about this deluxe coffee cake (would it be a deluxe disaster?) but then I saw it, eyeing me from the counter top. I took a deep breath, transferred the cake to a serving platter and cut out a small sliver for taste testing.

I couldn’t believe my eyes, or rather my taste buds. The cake was moist, there was even an overwhelming coconut-chocolate flavor and the best part? That toasty smell had been the bread crumb crust setting up to make for a nice moist outer shell for the cake. Go figure.

While I wouldn’t rush to make this cake again it was quite the learning experience and it paired nicely with a cup of coffee for an afternoon sweet treat.

The recipe was taken from Joy of Cooking, no modifications to this recipe – well only the unintentional ones. Some have told me – my father – that it gets better with age!

Joy of Cooking’s Deluxe Coconut Chocolate Chip Coffeecake

Serves 8 to 10

 Generously grease the bottom and lightly grease the sides of a 10-inch springform pan. Sprinkle the bottom of the pan with bread crumbs and turn lightly to coat. Tap out excess crumbs.

In a large bowl whisk together:

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup plus 2 TBSP sugar

1 tsp salt

Add and cut in with a whisk until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs:

1 1/4 sticks unsalted butter

Remove one cup of the mixture and set aside. To the remaining mixture thoroughly whisk in:

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

Add:

3/4 buttermilk or low fat yogurt

1 egg

1 tsp vanilla extract

Whisk until smooth and fluffy about 1 1/2 to 2 minutes (you may also use a hand held mixer on medium-high speed for about 1 minute). Fold in chocolate chips. Scrape batter into pan and smooth the top.

For the topping add to the one cup of reserved mixture:

1/2 cup chopped nuts

1/2 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar

1 cup coconut

Sprinkle crumbs on top of batter and bake at 350 F for 50 to 65 minutes. Let cool in the pan on a rack for 5 to 10 minutes and then remove pan side and let cook on the rack for 1 1/2 hours before serving.

Maple Roasted Acorn Squash

Yes, I am embarking on another roasted acorn squash journey. This time I used a recipe from Fine Cooking magazine for inspiration, of course I tweaked it a bit but the basis of the recipe remains the same.

 I am drawn to acorn squash because of their unique shape. A larger than life, green, white or orange acorn. I haven’t see any squirrels running off with these types of acorns though.

They can be savory, like with the balsamic recipe from this prior post, or sweet like today’s recipe. I am sure there are many other ways to bring acorn squash to the table but roasting just seems so convenient. Speaking of convenience, by lining the pan with parchment paper clean up is nearly effortless.

I must admit, this is my first season experimenting with this type of squash. The first time I picked one up at the grocery store I had no idea what I was looking for. Should it be soft to the touch like a ripe avocado, doubtful I thought. Should it be light or heavy? Does the color matter?

I’ve since learned that you should seek an acorn squash that feels heavy for its size. The orange and white varieties will have a slightly moister flesh and thinner skin than their green counterpart but any color will roast up quite nicely. The peak season is October through March though they can be grown year round.

I also love the nutty flavor that the walnuts contribute to this dish. I never have the patience to toast walnuts, pecans, or almonds. I suppose I could stash them for salad toppings but what else? If I’m going to have some for a snack, fresh out of the bag works for me. However, once squash came into the picture, it seemed like a terrific idea that I suddenly have the patience for.

Maple Roasted Acorn Squash

Serves 4

2 medium sized acorn squash

3 TBSP unsalted butter

1/4 cup pure maple syrup

1 TBSP ground ginger

4 TBSP chopped walnuts

Tsp salt

Preheat oven to 400 F and place a rack in the center of the oven. Slice a thin piece off of both ends of each squash. Cut squash in half, perpendicular to the to the ribs. Scoop out the seeds. Line a glass pan with parchment paper.Place squash halves into pan and rub with butter. Sprinkle with tsp salt.  Drizzle maple syrup over squash and into the cavity and sprinkle with ginger.

Roast squash for an hour and five minutes. Sprinkle with chopped walnuts and let roast an additional ten minutes. Serve warm.

Connecticut College Arboretum

Sometimes the best places to visit are right in your own backyard. Or maybe they’re about 10 miles from your backyard; still convenient none the less. Thankfully the weather cleared up today just the way the forecast predicted and the sun came out in time for an early afternoon stroll through the woods, the woods of the Conn College Arboretum that is.

I am an ocean girl at heart but that’s not to say I don’t know how to appreciate the burning orange, red, and yellow backdrop of autumn, the majestic tall pine trees or the slant at which the sunlight comes through the branches onto a leaf covered trail.

I visited the arboretum for the first time in elementary school with the girl scouts. It’s a place I have never forgotten but sadly never returned to. I always meant to pay those trails a visit but just never found the time to do so. I could only imagine the beauty that was waiting beyond those wrought iron gates. Even I-95 looked like the yellow brick road this time of year. 

I was seeking tranquility, an escape from the movie reel of “what ifs” and “why nots” in my head, I wanted clarity in my thoughts. I wanted to be beneath those towering trees. Sometimes you just need feel small among something so immense and beautiful put forth by nature in order to find a sense of serenity.

I was tired of thoughts about yesterday and thoughts about tomorrow. I wanted to think about now.

Walking through the wood no cares in the world, the world has come to play she’s all mine just for the day.                                                                                                     Dave Matthews Band, You Never Know

I wanted to race down the hill into the woods, I wanted to climb atop rocks and stomp in the mud. But then the smell hit me, the smell of the woods. A mix of moss, composting leaves, broken twigs and earth. I no long wanted to run, I wanted to walk, carefully and mindfully with each step deeper into the thicket of bushes and leaves. I wanted to take in the smells, the sounds, the beauty of everything around me.

 I caught glimpses of butterflies that otherwise could have been mistake for a leaf falling from above. I spied stone walls that stood the test of time. I saw fungus and deer tracks. What wasn’t to love?

I may have a deep love for all things ocean but this was autumnal bliss. 

Garlic Hummus

When I posted about zucchini hummus a few weeks ago I owned up to being quite the hummus snob. At that time I was experimenting with grilled zucchini hummus, a recipe I found in our newspaper. I really enjoyed the unique flavor that the zucchini provided but I realized that I must make my own traditional garlic hummus made from chick peas (or garbanzo beans as they are also known) before I could make a true comparison. After all, my zucchini hummus was being held to the standard of Mystic Market’s own recipe and let me tell you that is some stiff competition. I don’t even think that was fair. 

So of course I leaped at the opportunity to put my food processor to good use and the opportunity to level the playing field, the Fiore hummus playing field that is.

Yes, my love affair with food stems so deeply that I have decided to host a little hummus competition, between, well, ok just me. I like hummus for several reasons beyond its garlicky, robust flavor. The traditional kind, thanks to the garbanzo beans, provides a bit of protein and is a nice source of fiber. Hummus pairs nicely with some veggies or crackers and is a great alternative to mayonnaise. While I wouldn’t go making my tuna salad with hummus I do use it on sandwiches in place of the mayonnaise. To paint a nice little comparison picture for you I chose to compare a few traits of Sabra’s Roasted Garlic Hummus and Hellmann’s Real Mayonnaise. While it is so very simple to make your own hummus I realize not everyone owns a food processor nor do they have the impulse to whip up a batch at 10 AM on a Sunday like myself. That being said, you can certainly reap the benefits from a store bought version. Read on for the proof. 

Tablespoon for tablespoon hummus has 35 calories and mayo has 90 calories. If that doesn’t make a statement the calories from fat in mayo total 90 while hummus takes the prize with only 25 calories, or 10 grams of fat versus 3 grams of fat respectively. Mayo also lacks fiber and protein, both of which can be found in yes, you guessed it, hummus!

For my home made hummus I used this recipe as my guide; however, I omitted the hot sauce and only used two cloves of garlic which, as I suspected, turned out to be plenty.

Spaghetti Squash

This weekend I walked the familiar aisles of the produce section. The sunny yellow spaghetti squash sat amongst the acorn and butternut varieties. How had I never noticed this vegetable before? With its bright color it looked more like the sun in a solar system display than part of the squash selection. 

The set-it-and-forget-it hour long roasting cooking method is one of the many reasons I am now a fan spaghetti squash. Once out of oven the rest of the dinner preparation is underway and the squash cuts like butter.  The vitamins and fiber are an obvious added bonus. The seeds come out with ease and the way the flesh really does resemble spaghetti astonishes me.

Once raked out, I add the flesh into a cast iron pan with just a little olive oil which has been infused with some garlic. Salt, pepper, and some freshly chopped basil makes this a crunchy side to any main dish.

I’m thinking spaghetti (squash) and meatballs is in my cooking future. Nothing against pasta, I just think the added crunch and extra vitamins and minerals of the squash would make it a fun twist on something so traditional. 

While this side dish isn’t anything extravagant that is precisely why I enjoy it so much. Just a few ingredients and no fancy cooking skills required. And now that I am employed, I’ll be keeping quick and easy recipes like this on hand for those weeknight dinners and lunch leftovers!

Garlic & Basil Spaghetti Squash

Serves about 6-8 depending on the size of the squash

1 spaghetti squash

a few leaves of fresh basil, chopped

1 clove garlic, chopped

1 TBSP olive oil

1/3 cup parmesan cheese (optional)

Preheat oven to 375 F and pierce the squash several times with a knife. Set squash on a baking sheet and place in oven to roast for 60 minutes or until easily pierced with a knife. Let the squash cool until it can be handled. 

While squash is cooling, heat a skillet with olive oil and garlic over medium-low heat until fragrant. Slice squash in half lengthwise and spoon out the seeds. Rake the flesh out removing the spaghetti-like strands and transfer flesh to the skillet along with basil. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese if desired. Mix well with tongs and serve. 

Sunday French Toast

The loaves of pumpkin bread had cooled and one had already been given as a gift. The remaining loaf I kept for us to have as we pleased. My father asked “when are we supposed to eat this? Is it a breakfast food?” I hadn’t really thought about it. Breakfast, dessert, an accompaniment to tea any of these labels could go with the pumpkin bread. Instead I answered a very cliche “it is what it is” and shrugged my shoulders. I’m usually hesitant to mess with my food too much, I like simplicity and I think most fine foods can stand alone and hold their own. I don’t like to busy dishes with too many additions. That being said I also know how to live a little

But as I lay in bed this morning telling myself I would go feed Simon in just five more minutes it dawned on me. I could make this pumpkin bread into a true breakfast dish.

I had made French toast before and I knew we had the essential ingredients of bread, milk and an egg. This morning I took it one step further and added banana, almonds, and just a smattering of powdered sugar.

In my opinion, bananas, almonds, and powdered sugar alone would make for some delicious French toast even if I had used some whole grain bread. The slices of pumpkin bread are what made it out of this world.

If that doesn’t start off Sunday on the right foot I don’t know what would.

Pumpkin Bread French Toast

Serves one

2 slices of maple pumpkin bread (see previous post for recipe)

1 egg

splash of skim milk

1 TBSP sliced almonds

1/2 banana

powdered sugar

Heat a pan with nonstick cooking spray over medium heat. Whisk egg with a splash of milk. Coat slices of bread with egg mixture, shake off excess and lay in pan. Cook until browned on each side. Slice banana over top of toast, sprinkle slivered almonds and powdered sugar if desired. 

Maple Pumpkin Bread

While on the subject of searching the internet for recipes I want to take a moment to contradict myself. Some of the recipes I find never make it into my binder because they’re from a cook book. Ah yes, people did survive before the days of oh-so-convenient internet browsing.

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A few of my favorite cookbooks include the tried and true Joy of Cooking and also those cookbooks produced by the Mystic Seaport. Sometimes there is a little one liner to accompany the recipe giving you a glimpse of the history behind the dish. So while it may not be from my Grandma, it still has a history and I get to be let in on it too.

Back in September I got so excited about cooking with pumpkin I purchased about five cans of pure, organic, pureed pumpkin. Let me try my hand at this I thought to myself, and then I’ll venture into baking up a whole sugar pie pumpkin by halloween. You can bet I already have a recipe which uses the pumpkin shell for serving! Sometimes, it’s all about the presentation even if it’s just a family dinner.

Today I thought it was the perfect day to bake some maple pumpkin bread. I found the recipe in Mystic Seaport’s New England Table a tribute to updated Yankee cooking. I wanted to share something from the introduction.

Better to eat vegetables with people you love than to eat the finest meat where there is hate; better to eat a dry crust of break with a piece of mind, than have a banquet in a house of trouble.

Proverbs 15:17

While I had the intentions of making pumpkin bread, I hadn’t quite decided when I would do so. About a week ago I had picked up one of the unique ingredients, maple syrup. Now today the opportunity presented itself to bake up a loaf or two. I had missed just one other ingredient, apple sauce. A chance for modification I beamed, plain nonfat greek yogurt to the rescue! I also got to incorporate some fresh spices which we had picked up from the local spice and tea shop downtown. The original recipe also called for white flour but in true dietitian fashion, I substituted half of the white flour with whole wheat flour.

For those of you who want to get a bit fancy, I highly recommend spreading a little cream cheese on a slice or two. Happy harvesting everyone!

Maple Pumpkin Bread

Makes 2 loaves

4 eggs

2 cups sugar

1/2 cup vegetable oil

1/2 cup apple sauce plain nonfat greek yogurt

2/3 cup pure maple syrup

1 15-ounce can pumpkin

3 cups flour (1 1/2 cup each whole wheat and white flour)

2 tsp baking soda

1 tsp salt

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1/4 tsp nutmeg

1/4 tsp allspice

In a medium bowl, beat eggs with a handheld mixer. Add sugar, vegetable oil, yogurt, maple syrup and pumpkin, mix well. Sift flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice. Pour liquid ingredients into flour mixture and blend until just mixed, being careful not to over-beat. Pour batter into 2 loaf pans that have been sprayed with nonstick cooking spray. Bake in a preheated 350 F oven for 1 hour or until toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. This bread may be made ahead and frozen.

Linguini Alfredo

These days it is so simple to find inspiration for dinner recipes. A quick search on Google and the possibilities seem endless and a bit overwhelming if you ask me. As I have become more familiar with the kitchen, I continue to build my own binder of printouts and magazine clippings. As organized and useful as my binder is, one thing I can’t seem to overlook is the absence of nostalgia that comes along with the hand written recipe cards from relatives and friends that my mother has acquired over the years. Today they can be found in photo album page protectors, a perfect slot for the index cards.

These of course are not just any index cards, they house memories of years spent in the kitchen and splatters of ingredients smudge the delicate cursive directions. I may not have met the authors of the majority of these recipes since my grandmothers passed away before I was born, but by paging through these cards I am able to a feel a sense of connection through the writing and splatters to all of its contributors.

One of my favorite recipes is for Fettuccine Alfredo; but of course, butter and heavy cream leap off the page at me. Thank goodness for the ability to modify. While I keep the butter in the recipe, I do replace heavy cream with light cream. Normally I might suggest a lower fat cheese made with 2% milk but not tonight. In fact, I splurged and bought parmigiano reggiano to grate myself. There are other ways to make this dish a bit more healthy.

Besides the 1/2 cup of parmesan cheese there is virtually no protein in this dish. I solved this dilemma with some grilled chicken. While a garden salad would be a nice way to incorporate some greenery, last night I decided to mix it up and grill up some zucchini and yellow squash to toss in with the pasta.

As you may have guessed from the title of this post I also strayed when it came to the pasta selection. The wider noodles of fettuccine seemed too intrusive for what was becoming a busy pasta dish. I went with thinner linguini noodles instead.

Who says you can’t have your pasta and creamy sauce too? I’m happy to report another success in the Fiore kitchen!

Alfredo Sauce

Makes enough for one box of Boutoni Fettuccine or Linguini

1/4 cup unsalted butter

1/2 cup heavy light cream

1/2 cup parmesan cheese

salt and pepper

Melt butter and cream in a deep sauce pan over medium-low heat. Once melted, add in cheese stirring frequently to melt all of the cheese. Add in salt and pepper to taste. Toss with pasta and any other mix ins.

Falling for Pears

I have fallen in love with pears. Finding the perfect pear is a big treat as far as I’m concerned. If you haven’t already realized this, I have quite the love affair for good food. What is good food? No I’m not talking the good food versus bad food dilemma here; I’m talking about delicious food that is fresh (when possible), rich in flavor, and if it benefits my health then hey, I think I’ve struck gold!

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Towards the end of August I discovered my new favorite place on earth, Holmberg Orchards. There is just something so fantastic about the branches hanging low along this Thames River Valley plot of land with ripe fruit just begging to be placed into your pick-your-own bag. They’re open daily and if at all possible, I choose to venture into the orchard to pluck a few Bartlett pears off the tree rather than to visit the produce section at the grocery store.

Once home with my bounty, I placed my pears into a brown paper bag and I waited for them to ripen up to perfection. The first bite was full of flavor and juiciness and suddenly, all my dreams of pear tarts and cake were washed away. These pears were too good to be buried beneath flour and sugar. I wanted to do something fun with a few of the pears and then it came to me, pear chips. I sliced them up thinly and tossed with just a splash of the juice from a lemon. I was then taunted by the sweet smell of pears for the next two hours while they caramelized in the oven.

These little chips can be stowed away for snacks or salad toppings. I have this hunch they could also serve as a wine snack alongside some cheese. You know, the way that apple pie can be paired with a nice cheddar? I have yet to experiment with this cheese-pear combination but while on the topic of wine I will also sing my praises for pear wine. Did I mention that Holmberg’s also has a winery? Can you see why I love this place so much?

Pear wine had me at hello, or rather, first tasting. One Saturday afternoon back in August I thought that my elation for the remainder of the afternoon had something to do with the 1pm wine tasting I had participated in but no, I really think it was because I was in love with this pear wine.

As soon as I turned twenty-one my mother offered me a tidbit of advice, she wrote “always put a few ice cubes in your wine” and stuck it in my wallet. While I often do follow this advice, pear wine is my exception. It is perfect, chilled and by itself.

Pear Chips

Bartlett pears or another type of pear suitable for baking

Juice of one lemon

Parchment paper

Preheat oven to 250 F. Thinly slice pear, if you own a mandolin now is the time to break it out. Toss chips with lemon juice. Lay chips flat on a parchment lined baking sheet. Make sure that the chips do not touch one another as they will caramelize and become sticky. Bake for about 2 hours, turning occasionally.